“NICK FITZGERALD HAS COME ALIVE TONIGHT!”
I couldn’t have said it better myself, Dave.
These were the words ESPN TV viewers heard as the final nail was hammered into Jimbo Fisher and his Aggies’ coffin Saturday night in Davis-Wade Stadium. As Mississippi State was seeking just enough first downs to ice an eight-point lead, Fitzgerald had more sinister ideas when he toted the rock 76 yards and all the way to the student section, where thousands of his doubters ferociously cheered for the late-game dagger Nick put into the heart of Texas A&M. Add another rushing touchdown to compliment 241 aerial yards and two more scores, and it is safe to say that Fitzgerald outdid himself last night. But why hasn’t this type of performance been more typical? Or, a more important question, will he be able to sustain this type of eliteness in his final four games? The question with Nick is not whether he can or can’t play well—it’s just been a mystery as to when he will dominate and when he’ll lay an egg. I have always been a player defender, but I will admit that it probably would only take an average Fitzgerald performance to have beaten Florida and LSU, as well as the defense played those nights. Sometimes he puts it together, and sometimes Fitz leaves little to be desired on the field. There’s multiple versions of Fitzgerald the Quarterback. What are the odds we get TAMU Nick instead of LSU Nick against Alabama, Arkansas, and Ole Miss? Is Auburn Nick more likely to show up than Florida Nick in our final one third of the season? There’s no telling. Last night showed what most doubters and detractors should have known from previous Nick Fitzgerald performances—whether it be the 2016 Egg Bowl, vs South Carolina in 2016, against LSU in 2017, or this year’s Auburn game—Nick can get it done. He’s not incapable; but his bad games are really, really bad. Some guys’ off days aren’t that far a cry from their average; but when Fitz has a bad game, there’s seldom many good points to bring from it. Fitz showed that he can be Dat Dude, but it’s kind of like rolling a die and living with whatever you come up with when Nick Fitzgerald takes the field. The question is not “can he…?”, but “will he…?”
I know this seems pretty contradictory to my previous sentiments—Nick’s last “good game” saw him barely complete 50% of his passes and thrown an interception to go with only 69 yards, and I basically christened him the savior of Bulldog football in an article after that game. Now he has a truly remarkable performance, and I seem to be focused on the sustainability of that type of play. Football is amazing in how one’s feelings can alter and shift in a matter of weeks. Just check Fitz’s Twitter mentions for evidence of how that can unfold. In this day and age, our instant-decision, jump-to-conclusion, act-now-or-it-will-all-fall-apart attitude pervades every facet of life and hasn’t left football out of its destructive grasp. Many people, me included at certain points, were ready to bury Nick and throw Keytaon Thompson out there to see what happens. Keytaon did enter the game, and if not for a questionable face-mask call, his drive only went backwards. Now, we know that one possession does not a player make. But last night, despite fans’ and media’s demands, both played and Nick proved he was the player that deserved to be on the field. All of our cries for the backup stemmed from one bad LSU game right after a great Auburn performance from Nick, and all the demands to bench him before that game came after one bad outing against Florida. The student section was chanting to put in Thompson just two games after Fitz was the SEC player of the week! It’s baffling how massive the swings in dissent or praise for a player can be week to week. Something I’m learning in football and in life as a whole is not to rush to any type of conclusion too soon, or else I may find myself changing my tune a little while later. That’s why I didn’t write an article analyzing exactly why Nick will continue be a transcendent player for the rest of his career, and it’s why I never wrote an article calling for him to never set foot on the field again. Patience is a lost art, and although we are right to be critical or even angry—it’s a little too late to be heating up when your team that had conference championship aspirations has lost three times already—we need to look at the bigger picture before we speak against any student athlete’s performance on or off the field. Nick has put this team on his back sometimes, and other times he’s given games away. He may not be fantastic, but he’s certainly not abysmal. He’s probably somewhere in between, and where exactly he falls varies week to week. But one thing is for sure. Nick Fitzgerald plays quarterback for the Mississippi State Bulldogs, and the Bulldog faithful can either love it or live with it.